The scene: I’m in my final year in the sixth form at a boys grammar school in Dorset, hoping to take the musical world by storm any time now. I get to maybe three or four Arsenal games a year with my dad – it holds us together as I do my sixties teenager rebellion stuff. (If you are up there watching Dad, I know I never said sorry enough at the time, although I tried my best in later life to show you how much I really cared. But we really did share the Arsenal didn’t we?)
Everyone at school supports Liverpool – Dorset being normal hunting ground for Liverpool in those days. Except me – the only kid from London in the whole school. I stand as the Labour Candidate in the mock election and come bottom of the poll with about 2% of the vote. It’s Dorset. Harold Wilson wins the rest of the country.
At Arsenal Billy Wright is in his fourth year – we’d been 7th, 8th and 13th in the previous years. I retreated into being a post-Jack Kerouac beatnik while playing a mean jazz piano. The Head of English wrote in my report that what I did to the English Language should be a criminal offence. I was the real Outsider – but I was the only teenager in Poole who could jive, and the ladies always like a guy who can really jive and stay in time.
I knew that next season I would be away from Dorset, starting my study at whatever institution would be insane enough to take me – and where ever it was it would be a hell of a lot closer to London than Dorset. I would be going to see the team more often.
So what did I get in this new brave season? We won one game of the first four, and drew with Northampton Town and lost to Chelsea at home. It picked up a little, and the crowds held at around 32,000 (56000 for the 4-2 win against Manchester U).
But after Christmas it was awful. We were knocked out of the FA Cup in the 3rd round by Blackburn. We lost three in a row in the league in January and between February and April went ten without a win.
Shall I repeat? Ten without a win. Then after our single win, a draw and three defeats.
We also got the lowest ever attendance – mentioned yesterday in these columns in fact – 4544 against Leeds. The lowest in the first division since the war. We lost 0-3. The excuse was… Liverpool were on TV the same night in the Cup Winners Cup. Wright was sacked.
So, yes it was awful. Punishment at a distance, followed by taking my A Levels.
Just pause for a sec. Just look. On the team sheet….
Reserve goalkeeper: Bob Wilson
And with that array of talent, we were awful.
Can you imagine what I said to the guys at school? The team is great, its just the fucking manager. Great excuse eh? Oh how they laughed. Oh how I went jiving on a saturday night on Bournemouth pier. God I love rock n roll.
The support: The most interesting development in this season was in fact the crowd. The Leeds game is famous for being the smallest crowd in the history of the universe, but it wasn’t an isolated incident. 16,000 for the final home game of the season. 8,000 a few weeks earlier for a home game with WBA. 14,000 for a game against Newcastle. Newcastle! They were probably mostly zebra supporters.
In fact these were crowds that were SMALLER than Woolwich Arsenal got when they were struggling against relegation and were being taken over by Fulham in 1910.
It was said to be the crowds that made the Directors act as much as anything. Arsenal were staying in the league, but without the traditional north London support. (We lost both league games against the Tiny Totts.)
So, was there anything good about the season? (Apart from the jiving)
Only the ending of the Wright era, and the thought that OK, even though the Board seems to be out of its head by following Wright with the appointing of the physio as manager, it couldn’t get any worse. So I left home, and prepared to make my long awaited return to the terraces. But before that it actually got worse in the summer as I got appendicitis and was rushed into Poole Hospital for a week long stay – although not until my band and I had played support to the Animals in one gig and the Pretty Things in another. No wonder my music A level result wasn’t as good as anticipated.
My first game of the next season (having settled into life as a student in Brighton) was October 8, 1966, against Newcastle. We’d just gone seven games in a row without a win.
It didn’t look much brighter.
(c) Tony Attwood 2009.
If you would like to write up your worst season, I’d love to hear from you. Send it to Tony at hamilton-house.com. Anyone sending in a comment for the first time is liable not to be posted unless he/she writes Ref 1966 in the subject line.
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